It was goosebumps: the hearing at the European Court of Human Rights was due to start at 9.15 a.m., but from ten past nine it got quieter and quieter until you could have heard a pin drop. Everyone was staring spellbound at the door through which the judges were about to enter the large hall. We, four women of the Greens 60plus from Hamburg, were allowed to be there and sat in the first row. At exactly 9.15 a.m. the door opened – and a single bailiff came in with measured steps to loudly blare out in the middle of the room: Le Court! (The Court!).
And then they entered, 8 women and 14 men, all in traditional black robes, with some kind of scarf with a white trim. The contrast could not have been more stark in this hyper-modern setting. Once everyone was seated, it was straight down to business: the President opened the meeting and gave the floor to the Swiss representatives, everything was in English or French, which was then simultaneously translated into English.
The time was strictly limited, at the end the judges asked numerous questions. After a long break, all questions were answered. And now we have to wait…
We had already travelled from Hamburg to Strasbourg on 28 March, got up at six o’clock on the day of the hearing to meet the Swiss climate seniors in front of the European Court of Human Rights for a joint photo. Besides the Swiss women, there were also many representatives of Greenpeace 50plus, a group of young people from Portugal who also want to file a complaint – and we came as representatives of the Greens, who are currently setting up a non-party group of climate seniors in Hamburg.
Many press representatives appeared in front of the court building, most of them from Switzerland, France and Austria, but also the German press was interested, a report with a photo appeared for example at Spiegel online and the ARD asked for an interview. No wonder that the press interest was great, since for the first time the average age of the climate activists was over 70, something that had never happened before.
In the meantime, the Swiss association counts 2000 women of retirement age as members and is supported by about another 1000 women and men.
The reason for the climate complaint is clear: the older people get, the worse they can regulate their body temperature, they sweat less and hardly feel thirsty.
Especially older people in cities have a hard time, they can hardly escape the heat. The large amount of concrete, the lack of plants from which cooling moisture evaporates, and countless surfaces that store heat turn cities into heat islands where it can be up to ten degrees Celsius warmer than in the countryside.
The result can be heat cramps or life-threatening heat stroke. And nobody talks about it because people usually die quietly in their homes, for example because their circulation fails or they are completely dehydrated.
That is why the Swiss women now want to file a lawsuit in Strasbourg against Switzerland, because it is doing too little against climate change and is not protecting its elderly residents enough. It is mainly older women who get sick, the statistics on this are clear, explained the lawyer of the senior climate women during the hearing. She was brilliant and was able to answer all the questions in detail during the three-hour session – while the Swiss lawyers ran out of arguments at the end and became louder and louder in return.
We very much hope that Swiss women will succeed. It would make a lot of difference if their case were recognised. However, a judgement is not expected before autumn, probably not even until next year. Until then, we have to keep our fingers crossed: Keep your fingers crossed!
Author: Christa Möller-Metzger